The Fierce Girl's Guide to Finance

Get your shit together with money


February 2018

Are these 4 spending traps blowing your budget?

There’s a curious thing about modern, middle-class life. We can afford things. We have money to spend. But we’re not very good at it.

Sure, we have to cover the boring bills and housing costs. But someone with a decent income has a bit of flex left in their budget. The dilemma is deciding what to do with it.

I’ve been thinking about this lately. How do we know if we can afford something?

Or more accurately, how do we decide what we can afford?

It’s more complicated than it sounds. Humans are notoriously bad with delayed gratification. So, when we’re deciding how to allocate our money, we often choose what’s right in front of us.

Shiny things, fun things, easy things!

In a perfect world of financial responsibility, we wouldn’t go shopping or to the pub until we’d put extra money into our savings,  our mortgage, or investments. But life is not perfect, nor are we.

But I have a theory that the key to building wealth is saying, “I know I can afford this, but should I?”.

There are some common spending traps that we should be conscious of in life. We would do well to notice, pause and reflect on these … before we get out our wallets.

Emotional spending

Maybe most spending is emotional. We have a vision of our lives that we’re trying to fulfill. To look a certain way, present a certain way, create a certain story about ourselves.

But there is also a particular type of emotional spending that’s a response to a situation. It’s called retail therapy, and it’s bullshit.

Therapy is a positive process that makes you face your feelings and deal with them. Shopping is just avoiding those feelings.

Spending to soothe your pain – or at least delay it – is a trap.

(I’m not saying I haven’t done it, but I will say I have I ended up with poorly fitting outfits.)

Solution? Process your emotions, rather than avoiding them. Call a friend, go for a run, hit the gym (my personal favourite). Maybe even go to real therapy (seriously – it’s great – I wrote about it here).

Mindless/lazy spending

This is my hobby horse, so get ready for a rant.

If you’re spending fifty bucks a week buying lunch, because you can’t haul your arse into a supermarket, then it’s time to reassess your life choices.

It’s not about having time, it’s about having priorities.  I’m not saying you need to spend hours in the kitchen every night. Commit a short period of time to even the most half-hearted food prep, and you’ll thank yourself. (I gotchu fam – tips here and here).

Same goes for spending too much at the pub/cocktail bar, because it’s a habit and your friends do it and you can’t think of anything else to do that’s cheaper or more satisfying.

Look, everyone likes a night out, but if it’s your default, then maybe have think about the habits you’re forming.

Solution: Work out where your downfall is, and how much time or effort you need to fix it. It may be less than you think.

Routine spending

It’s easy to think something is necessary because you do it a lot. But it just means you’ve set your baseline at a particular level: regular salon sessions, eyelash extensions, getting your hair done every six weeks, or whatever recurring cost has become part of your routine.

I was convinced that one-on-one coaching every week was definitely necessary and justified. But having stopped it this year, it turns out, it’s not. I love my coach, but do I have other financial priorities right now? Yes. (Am I a good enough powerlifter to justify the cost of coaching? No)

Solution: I’m not saying you shouldn’t treat yourself. I’m saying to think about what you have normalised in your life, and whether it’s serving you well.

Social-pressure spending

The social pressure of money is a real thing.

People don’t like to say ‘I can’t afford that’. There’s a perceived shame in noting the lofty financial expectations people place on others.

So you either find money for things, or whack it on credit cards.

Hen’s weekend that’s gonna cost 300 bucks? Suck it up and pay.

Friday night drinks that cost $50 a round? Deal with it.

Group birthday present for $100 each? Sign me up.

And before you know it, the budget is blown.

Solution: Generosity is good, but you don’t have to get on board the crazy-cost-train every time you’re asked. If you have a financial goal you’re working to, make it known. “Sorry, I’ve got some aggressive savings goals for my house deposit. Can we look at some other options, or I will do my own thing”.

Real friends will be chill about that. Shallow friends can eat a bag of dicks.

Set yourself up for success

Look, I know this stuff isn’t always easy. The first step is being clear on your goals – it’s easier to say no if you know the reason. I highly recommend working on your goals (here) and mindful spending manifesto (here).

Then you’ll be set up for success when it comes to saying no, or not today, or not ever.

Four steps to save money, cut waste and be hotter

Ok, maybe not hotter, but definitely healthier.

Yep, I’m here to talk meal prep.

‘Wow, that looks healthy’ is a standard refrain from people in the kitchen at work when I get out my food. They say it with a sense of envy or wistfulness (or maybe just relief that they don’t have to eat it). But overall, people act like making a daily tuna salad is some feat of adulting that’s beyond them.

I’m here to change your mind on that. If you really want to take control of your grocery bill and your diet, meal planning is the not-so-magic bullet.

Moreover,  if you buy lunch at work even a couple of times a week, that’s $1000 a year at least.

I thought everyone knew how to do this whole menu planning thing, but my friend Linda told me it’s a bit of a dark art to her.

So, here I give you the step-by-step guide to meal-prepping like a boss. A ladyboss, of course.

1. Gather your recipes, grab a coffee and write a list

Pick a recipe book, website or Pinterest board and have a browse. This might sound fancy – i.e. researching recipes – but it keeps you interested in meals and gives you new ideas.

You can still put your staples in the week’s meal plan (mince and veg sauce is a firm fixture on mine). But throw in a few new things, and you’ll feel like Nigella fucking Lawson.

Add in a Kikki K planner for maximum smugness

(Life pro tip: e-books on your iPad mean you can take a few recipe books to your favourite cafe. This one is Well-fed 2 by Melissa Joulwan, one of my fave paleo books. I also like Pete Evans’ Healthy Every Day, despite him being a massive tool).

Writing a list is where you start to make savings. By buying just what you need, instead of stuff that kinda looks useful or tasty as you wander the shops, you will avoid wasted food.

I split my list into three sections – fresh food, supermarket aisles, meat/chicken/fish – for easy nagivation.

 2. Buy the things on your list but be flexible

I shop at Harris Farm a lot, and they have an awesome section of cheap, marked-down meats that need to be cooked or frozen in the next day or two. This is ideal for meal-prep nerds, because I’m cooking most of it in one day. But of course, it depends on what’s available, so I will often change my meal plan to use those ingredients.

Similarly, if you make a plan that uses, say, avocado, and those bastards are $7 each (a real thing I saw yesterday), then good sense dictates that you ditch or amend that recipe.

3. Put your stuff away properly

I’ve sung the praises of Tupperware’s fridge range in a previous post. They are the key to avoiding the curse of  soggy celery and wrinkled capsicum. However, they don’t work if you leave them empty in the pantry.

I wash and dry the fresh things, then put them in my Tupperware. If you are a loser and don’t have any, buy some special stay-fresh bags or read these tips. (Or ask me to hook you up with my Tupperware lady). Food waste is a killer for the planet and your pocket, so making a bit of an effort makes a big difference.

Note my awesome vintage Tupperware lettuce keeper from an op-shop.

3. Set aside a food prep time and get cracking

I devote Sunday afternoon to food prep. I totally understand if you have lives and kids and obligations; not everyone can do it all the time. But creating a routine like this, even  including the kids in it, is the only way to make this work.

It’s a matter of investing time on Sunday to reap the rewards for the rest of the week.

As I said to a boy on Tinder who “didn’t have time” meet me after a couple of months’ chat, “I don’t believe in having time, I believe in having priorities”. (He was actually really surprised/upset. Next!).

Chicken curry on the go

It can take a while to get the hang of what order to cook things in, and it makes an unholy mess in the kitchen. But the end result is worth it.

If you’re  keen for some detailed guidance, check out the Meal Prep Sunday thread on Reddit or this post from its creator.

4. Cool and store all your cooking

Finding room in the fridge is the hardest part of this. I have an extensive Tupperware collection and end up playing Tetris with it (sorry, will stop mentioning the T-word). But if you don’t, that’s ok, the old snap-lock bags work a treat too (try and reuse them where you can).

If your fridge doesn’t look like this, who even are you?

I’ve been freezing more stuff lately, so I can rotate dishes through the week. One thing I struggle with sometimes is ‘Day 4 Syndrome’: when you can’t stomach one more of that chicken curry after four days in a row. So the freezer is helping with that.

And that’s basically it. Stop buying lunches, save money, avoid food waste, be healthy and maybe even get  skinnier (if that’s what you want, and if you don’t, that’s totally fine and good on you for your self-love).

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